The 2014 World Cup begins today in Brazil. Founded in 1932, the tournament is held every four years and pits the world’s 32 best national soccer teams against each other. It is the world’s most-viewed sporting event, with nearly half the planet’s population watching at least one match.
Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal is one of the world’s greatest players. However, he is battling a thigh injury and knee tendinitis. His injuries may be the typical result of the grueling game he plays. But a witch doctor in Ghana has a different view.
Nana Kwaku Bonsam predicted in February that Ronaldo would be forced to miss the World Cup with injuries. He claims to have created a special powder from his gods, mixed with leaves and concoctions placed around an image of the athlete. He intends to keep the player from competing against Ghana in the tournament.
Despite the witch doctor’s efforts, it would be surprising for Ghana to win. However, other facts regarding the World Cup are not so shocking. Of the 32 nations competing, the United States has the highest population and the most Starbucks, airports, and cars per capita. We also have both the most McDonalds restaurants and the highest obesity rate.
These facts are more surprising: the Netherlands has the most Internet users (93 percent of their population), while Mexico’s team has the most Twitter followers. Ghana spends the most on education, but Switzerland has the most Nobel Prizes per capita. Russia has the most cell phones per capita, with 1.84 per person.
It is troubling to me that there are far more World Cup fans than Christians in the world. Perhaps the disparity is due in part to perception. Watching soccer is entertaining and even thrilling for its fans. Following Jesus is thought to be restrictive and joyless. Watching soccer doesn’t cost you any more than time and tickets or television access; following Jesus requires church attendance, Bible reading, and “boring” religious rituals.
Of course, this perception of Christianity couldn’t be farther from the experience of Jesus’ closest followers. Early disciples were so excited and transformed by their relationship with Jesus that they wanted the world to have what they had. They rejoiced in their Lord despite every hardship (Philippians 4:4), and loved each other with such infectious community that “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (Acts 5:14). Today, those who know Jesus best testify that he is their empowering source of purpose and delight.
Let’s learn from the global passion for soccer that people want joy. Let’s walk so closely with Jesus that the joyous fruit of his Spirit is obvious in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). And let’s share the good news that joy can be ours not just for a tournament but forever. The World Cup will be over on July 13, but ten thousand millennia from today, our glorious experience of paradise with our loving Father will only have begun.